Strunk Wins Battle with Pauch Jr, Coalcracker Notebook – DTD Exclusive

By KEN BRUCE

It has been a year of resurrection for Jeff Strunk at the Big Diamond Speedway in 2020. After going three years without a win at the Minersville, Pa., dirt track oval Strunk is back with a vengeance. The season started out okay for Strunk aboard the Glenn and Bonita Hyneman owned No. 126, but a blown engine suffered at the Bridgeport Speedway looked to put Strunk’s Big Diamond season on hold until the engine could be repaired or replaced.

Not wanting to have Friday nights off, Strunk turned to good friend and Penn Can Speedway driver Butch Getz to see if one of his cars could be used on Friday nights to keep Strunk behind the wheel. Getz gladly offered the use of his Bicknell Chassis, Billy the Kid powered No. 15S to Strunk. With the blessing of Glenn and Bonita Hyneman who graciously offered their shop along with their truck and trailer to use, it has turned out to be a match made in heaven for Strunk. Since taking over the No. 15S, Strunk has wheeled the car to two wins and has thrust himself into a close battle for the track championship between himself, Mike Gular and Craig Von Dohren.

Friday night at Big Diamond, Strunk started from the 13th spot and was strong from the get-go as he avoided a big pileup on a lap eight restart to put himself into the top five. Working by Brett Kressley, Jared Umbenhauer and Duane Howard, Strunk put himself into the runner-up spot and now had to chase down leader Billy Pauch Jr. Strunk worked the extreme inside lap after lap and finally was able to take over the top spot with around five laps remaining. Pauch was not giving up and continued to work the outside, staying even with the leader as they raced hard and clean. Strunk was finally able to work his way totally past Pauch only to have a caution come out with just four laps left. Strunk continued to make the inside work to his advantage as he was able to hold off Pauch through yet another restart to take home the big $4,000 win.

“That was a real good race for the fans and for us, I didn’t like all those yellows at the end but we were good enough to hold our own there,” said a happy Strunk in the team’s hauler after the win. “It was a helluva a race there with Junior (Pauch Jr). I could maintain the top there in the middle of the race but I didn’t feel as good there as I did on the bottom and I figured if I was going to get to the front, the bottom is where I needed to be to get those guys.”




Strunk sat third behind the two leaders Pauch Jr and Howard when the race resumed after a lap 33 yellow and made the move on the restart that allowed Strunk to eventually get to the front.

“Billy kind of used Duane up there on that one restart going into one and two,” explained Strunk. “That left the door open for me to get under Duane and that was the move of the race for us and allowed us to get in a position to win. Once I got into second, I knew if I could keep it down in the brown, I had a good chance to get by Billy and get the win. Once we did get by, I just had to hit my marks because I knew if I didn’t, he would go right around us. I was flirting with disaster down there with those yuke tires and I did graze them a couple of times but that’s how far down you had to be to get in the bite and get the grip you need to excel here.

“We have a great combination with Butch (Getz) and with Glenn and Bonita (Hyneman) supplying the truck and trailer along with all the tools and supplies and letting me keep the car at the shop. It’s a great combination that’s paying off for us and I can’t wait for the Coalcracker.”

I asked Jeff how the track has been and if tonight’s race length would be any indication of how the track would be for the Coalcracker which is coming up in two weeks.

“The track will definitely be something like this for the Coalcracker. It was wider tonight than it has been.  There were two good grooves there you could run. I think the top got a little too far out there towards the end, but you can’t ask for a better track than we had tonight. I don’t know if there was anyone else who could hit the bottom there like we could, I think Mike (Gular) was probably right there as well, he usually goes pretty good down on the bottom. We both (Strunk & Gular) kind of work together with these cars. Working together with Mike and his team is really helping us and we’ll probably go right down to the wire with him for the championship and that’s cool with me. It’s great to have Mike and his team as an alliance and it works for the both of us.”

The track this season at Big Diamond has been nothing short of excellent. Week in and week out the racing has been some of the best I’ve seen at Big Diamond in years and Strunk echoed my sentiments.

“The track here has been great all year,” mentioned Strunk. “It’s a racy track and you can’t ask for a better deal. The crowds have been great all year and that’s great for all of us and hat’s off to Jake, he’s been doing a heckuva a job here all year.”

With Penn Can Speedway giving the Modifieds the night off, the car owner of the No. 15s Butch Getz made his way to Big Diamond to see his car make it to victory lane.

“Jeff is one of the best and I’m glad he’s in that car,” said Getz while standing next to his victorious driver in the trailer afterwards. “I know Billy the Kid Performance Engines is happy and Randy Williamson of Bicknell is happy. I want to thank Glenn and Bonita (Hyneman) for letting Jeff use their truck and trailer and running this car and letting him finish out the year out here in it. Everything has been working out good, other than last week when he had some bad luck. It’s going to go down to the wire here and I’m really happy to be able to work with Jeff, Glenn and Bonita, it means a lot to me and I appreciate it very much.”

Pauch Jr Happy with Second Place

There is no secret that Billy Pauch Jr has struggled here at Big Diamond all season long. Be it driving his own No. 15 or the Breitenstein No. 14 the kid’s kid has not had the season he had hoped for here at Big Diamond. As the bigger paying season ending races quickly approach us, Pauch has made the decision to just drive his own small block car for the remainder of the season.

Last Friday, Pauch was better than he has been but this week Pauch had the car dialed in even better and was five laps short of picking up his first win of the season at Big Diamond in a point’s paying race. Pauch was able to get by Duane Howard on a restart to take the lead but just could not hold off a charging Jeff Strunk to secure the win. Pauch did not give up the lead easily and kept the pressure on Strunk running the outside, but in the end, he could not hold off the cagey veteran.

“Man, I just didn’t have enough tonight, I don’t know if I should’ve ducked down lower or not, but Jeff was good tonight,” cited a happy Pauch Jr afterwards. “There ain’t many people like that where you can run side by side for that many laps and that’s why I think he (Strunk) has the respect of everyone around here. I was good tonight and for lack of a better term we sucked here this year but we rolled this out last week and it was good.  Tonight we made it a little better as we head into the Coalcracker so at least we have something to work with now. We just need to adjust on it a little and we should be alright.”

This is the same car that Pauch has used up here all year when he has run his own stuff, but last week the team made some changes to get them closer to where they want the car to be.

“We just changed off of where we had the car from everywhere else,” explained Pauch. “It just seems to be a different place up here and a different program and we had to go to a little bit different and unorthodox thing that we don’t normally run. So, it’s seemed to work a lot better and we’ve been better here the last two weeks with it and now we have to get to the fine tuning of it. I could run with him (Strunk) but just couldn’t hold him off. I was trying at the end maybe a little bit too hard and that is when he got away from me a little. It was good, but we come to win.  These guys work hard on this car all week and I want to get them a win. We’re going to take next Friday off here and take this car to Grandview on Thursday night because I am going to run it in the 76er and we want to get a baseline for that race.”

Gular Rallies for a Podium Finish

After winning last Friday night, Mike Gular was back on top in the chase for the 2020 points title at Big Diamond. However, this past Friday night things got a little trickier for the team as they looked stay on top. Starting from the 12th spot, Gular was once again on his game early on as made some bold moves to head to the front before his challengers in the points race Jeff Strunk and Craig Von Dohren could get there. A lap eight restart would change things up dramatically for the Boyertown, Pa., driver when fourth place running Kris Graver spun out as the field roared into turn two causing a pileup that Gular was right in the middle of. Gular’s No. 2A hit the back of the car of Alex Yankowski causing their bumpers to lock together with both drivers having to stop. Once the safety crews were able to free up the two cars, Gular made a quick trip to the pits to have the crew checkout the car for damages. Seeing nothing major Gular rejoined the field at the back of the pack.

Gular was able to charge through the field and when the checkered flag waved found himself finishing in third. It was a nice comeback for the team and enabled them to retain the points lead.

“It was good for us to be able to comeback through the field like that and finish third,” explained Gular. “We got tangled up there on that restart and I am not sure what exactly happened there to be honest with you, but I just saw the 16 slide up across the track and I had nowhere to go except into the back of the No. 84Y (Alex Yankowski). We ended up bending the left front shock a little, but I don’t think it screwed up anything too bad. We’ve been good, we just need a little bit of fine tuning. We didn’t have a car that could win tonight. We had our opportunities with those restarts at the end, but they were just a little bit better than us tonight. We’re excited with what we have here with the Coalcracker coming up and tonight was a good test run for that race with the drier track and being more like it will be for that race.”

Big Diamond Bits

32 Modifieds signed in for action on Friday night with Cory Merkel, Ray Swinehart and Jared Umbenhauer winning the three heats. Andy Burkhardt was the consi winner…

Ryan Godown made his Friday night debut trying to get the Searock Fabrication No. 26 tuned up for the upcoming Coalcracker 72. Godown was unable to qualify in his heat race and was leading the consi when his car suddenly slowed to a stop with engine issues ending his night early…

Ryan Krachun was another driver who was making his first start of the season at Big Diamond and looked very strong coming from the back of his heat race to qualify. Unfortunately, Krachun was involved a lap eight tangle that put an end to his race…

Dillon Steuer returned to Big Diamond last Friday and looked much more comfortable this week. Steuer was able to qualify in his heat race this week but was also involved in the lap eight crash and had to be towed off…

Cliff Quinn took a hard tumble in the consolation race when he went over the left front wheel of Matt Stangle No. 6 in turn three. Quinn’s No. 69 ended up with most of the car hanging over the third turn fence. Thankfully, Quinn was not injured…

Speaking of Matt Stangle, this kid has been fast every week at Big Diamond but a plethora of problems have robbed him of some top five finishes. Last week, Stangle was bounced around in the consi but still managed to qualify for the feature. Stangle was coming on strong in the feature and found himself running in the top 10 but was forced to pull off the track when the motor started to overheat because of damage suffered in the consolation race…

Ray Swinehart looked strong for the second week in a row only to once again have issues late in the feature resulting in a DNF. If Swinehart can get his No. 33 to be around at the finish look for the veteran driver to be near the top…

Tim Apgar made his return to the Big Diamond last Friday but was a DNQ. It’s always nice to have Tim at the track…

Forgotten in last weeks Big Diamond Bits was the return of Scott Albert to the Modified field. Albert was back again this past Friday. Albert has struggled both weeks and failed to qualify as he looks to work the bugs out of the No. 10$…

Modified regular Nick Rochinski is recovering from a concussion that he suffered in a hard crash at the Orange County Fair Speedway forcing him to the sidelines. Rochinski hopes to get clearance from his doctor to be able to race in the Jack Rich, Inc. Coalcracker 72 on Sunday Sept 6th

Get well soon to former Big Diamond regular John Willman who underwent gallbladder surgery on Sept 12th

It is looking to be a two man show in the USS Achey Open Sportsman division. Brandon Edgar and Brad Brightbill seem to have the edge on everyone else so far in 2020. The two drivers have battled each other hard for most of the season with each driver having won three races so far and remarkably have finished first and second to each other four times…

This Friday night, dirttrackdigest.tv will once again have all the action for you via pay-per-view if you cannot make it to the track…

And finally, a huge shoutout and congratulation to Big Diamond race director and head scorer Kasea Bauscher and assistant scorer Dereka Bauscher on their recent nuptials!…

If you have any questions or comments, I can reached by email at dirtracefan25@hotmail.com or on Twitter @dirtracefan25